The Westernization of Chinese food

While the documentary, “The Search For General Tso” revealed that General Tso was, in fact, a real person, it also told us that he had absolutely nothing to do with the deep fried, sweet and spicy chicken served in Chinese restaurants in America. In general, most Chinese food served in America isn’t actually Chinese at all. Not crab rangoon, not sweet and sour chicken, and certainly not fortune cookies. The beloved white takeout boxes aren’t even Chinese.

What’s the difference between American “Chinese” food and authentic Chinese food?
A large majority of westernized Chinese food is deep fried or soaked in sauce, while deep frying is rarely practiced in China. Most authentic Chinese dishes are stewed, braised, baked, steamed or boiled and utilize spices rather than sauces and salt.

While American Chinese food usually features meat as the main part of the meal, in China, main ingredients tend to be vegetables, noodles, rice or a protein like tofu. Meat is used in authentic Chinese food, but just not as prevalently as it is in America. There are plenty of vegetables used in the States that don’t appear at all in Chinese food, like carrots, onions, tomatoes, and even the broccoli of the American Chinese dish, beef and broccoli. These vegetables aren’t native to the country.

Deep frying food is quick, which is why you can usually get your Chinese takeout in just a few minutes. However, in China, chefs tend to emphasize the harmony of color, aroma and taste, leading the preparation of their dishes to take significantly longer to prepare than their American counterparts. Spring rolls actually are served in China, but on kid’s menus.

What are some authentic Chinese dishes?
Many Chinese dishes have ingredients that most westerners would never think to put in their food. Many of these include alternative parts of animals like pig ears, chicken feet and duck blood. Others include seafood that isn’t prevalent on western menus, like jellyfish and sea cucumbers. There are so many regions of China, and they all prepare their dishes a little bit differently. Food from the Shangdon region is usually salty, Sichuan food is spicy and Cantonese food is sweeter. The following dishes are popular in China:

  • Peking duck: Served with a sweet sauce and shredded vegetables, Peking duck originated in Beijing, China.
  • Phoenix claws: These are actually chicken feet, which are mostly made up of skin and cartilage. Phoenix claws are usually served for brunch.
  • Xiao long bao: These steamed, bready soup dumplings are filled with broth and different meat or vegetable fillings.
  • Congee: Served for breakfast, congee is made by cooking rice into a porridge. Different toppings and seasonings are added afterward.
  • Fo Tiao Qiang: Native to the Fuijan province, Fo Tiao Qiang is a paste made up of many sea ingredients like shark fin, abalone, sea cucumber and scallop. They’re simmered to perfection with rice wine.

Finish your authentic Chinese meal with an orange instead of a fortune cookie. They are signs of good fortune in China!

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